Boardman High School students may find it easier to reach for the stars than they think. All they have to do is sign up for the astronomy classes that are held in the school's planetarium.
''We are the only high school in the Tri-county area that has its own planetarium,'' said astronomy instructor John Richley.
According to Richley, Boardman High School was built in 1969 and the idea of having a planetarium was always included in the plans. In the late 1970s the star room was completed and in the 1990s, the planetarium seating was installed.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Boardman seniors Paul Benson, Ramar Mavarro, and Dawalyn Brown check out the Starball projector in the high school's planetarium.
''Prior to the seating, the students had to work off regular school desks.'' Richley said.
When Richley began his teaching career at Boardman High School, he was licensed to teach science in all grades. At the time Dan Hicklin was teaching the astronomy class, but Richley said it was something that has always fascinated him.
''I am a science nerd,'' Richley said. ''When Dan announced his retirement, I jumped at the opportunity to teach the class. This year I have four astronomy classes and one honors astronomy class. I teach it all day long. I am so lucky.''
The planetarium centerpiece is the Starball projector that can put the night sky into the 7.3 meter dome. Richley said he can capture the night sky as it would be from any point in the world.
''I can adjust it to anywhere on Earth,'' he said. ''You want to see the night sky over Paris, I can do that.
The astronomy class at BHS is an elective course. Most students who take it aren't looking at careers in astronomy but according to Richley, they can get a lot out of the course. Richley combines the history of the Greek and Romans use of the stars to modern day science and the study of the planets.
Students who are in the course get science lessons that promote critical thinking, scientific study and teamwork. A recent project encouraged students to design an alien being that could live on a specific planet. It involved imagination and creativity as well as understanding elements and atmosphere. The creatures the students came up with taught them the basic elements needed to support life.
While he has roughly 200 students in the course this year, Richley still feels others don't really know about it.
''I attend church in Boardman and have had some more recent Boardman graduates tell me they didn't know the planetarium existed in the school,'' he said.
For the most part, room 324 looks like any other classroom in the hall, except for the lighted sign that says ''in use.'' Richley keeps the door locked and turns the sign on whenever the star projector is in use.
Inside the room are theater-styled seats that have slanted backs to make viewing the dome easier. The dome itself is approximately one story tall and is presently being outfitted for a new speaker system around the base.
Richley said every summer a technician comes to the school and conducts routine maintenance on the Starball projector. He said the projector is still popular and parts are easily obtained.
As this school year winds down, Richley said he is eager to fill this fall's classes as more students sign on. The course is equal to a half-credit for science.
The only other known planetarium in the Mahoning Valley is located on the campus of YSU.